Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Worsening Outlook for Pakistan

Yesterday I listened to NPR's Terry Gross interview the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid on the state of Pakistan today. Gross began by asking Rashid about the present state of Pakistan, and for his response to a column by the NY Times' Nicholas Kristof on the worsening state of Pakistan. Here's Kristof:

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

If you think that's quite a lot of doom and gloom Rashid, who is well-known for his reporting on Paksitan, Afghanistan, the Taliban and Central Asica in general, did nothing to reassure. He was frank in stating that the situation in Pakistan has worsened dramatically in recent years, as the Pakistani Taliban have essentially declared war on the government of Pakistan. Peshawar in particular has seen a dramatic upswing in violence; thanks to its role as the administrative center of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas its a prime target for the Taliban, and an American aid worker was killed there the week before last. But the situation is even worse than that. Rashid went on to say that roughly 1/3 of the country is essentially outside of the control of the Pakistani government and unsafe for any foreigners to travel in.

Our commitment to Afghanistan is ramping up, and Obama will be expected to press our European allies for greater support in the conflict there. But we face a very serious question for which there is no easy answer (and perhaps no answer at all); how can we hope to secure Afghanistan, weaken the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda, if Pakistan falls apart? To what purpose do we defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan if they are more powerful than ever in Pakistan? Such would be the equivalent of ridding your barn of mice, only to find that they've taken over your house.

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